B.C.’s housing minister and attorney general says BC Housing staff are working overtime to end the Strathcona Park homeless camp.
It comes as a man with connections to the encampment and its predecessor at Oppenheimer Park faces charges in a deadly home invasion in Vancouver.
“If we could move faster we would, because it’s not a safe situation,” David Eby told Global News.
“Every day that passes without a tragedy, I’m grateful.”
Police said 78-year-old Usha Singh was found gravely injured inside her home near Queen Elizabeth Park on Jan. 31.
The elderly woman had been attacked by two men who allegedly posed as police officers to gain entry.
Singh died in hospital on Feb. 2, the same day police arrested 41-year-old Pascal Bouthillette near Main Street and Terminal Avenue and Sandy Parisian, 47, near Strathcona Park.
A day later, Bouthillette was charged with second-degree murder while a charge of manslaughter was sworn against Parisian, who was also wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for unrelated offences.
Parisian appeared before Vancouver city council in Oct. 2019 and claimed he was among the leaders of an entrenched homeless encampment in a Downtown Eastside public park.
“I’m the mayor of Oppenheimer Park, I can explain everything that goes on in the park,” Parisian proclaimed as he spoke at the City Finance and Services meeting.
Parisian said he was one of the “original six” park campers and warned the mayor and council what might happen if the tent city was broken up.
“When we were here it was peaceful, it was quiet,” Parisian told council.
“You’re trying to disperse us, you have one problem. When you disperse us, you’re going to have 380 problems.”
The Oppenheimer homeless camp was eventually cleared by the province last May but the park has still not reopened to the public despite an extensive and costly remediation effort.
During its 18 months as a tent city, police said Oppenheimer Park acted as a magnet for crime — with an innocent community advocate murdered, several shootings, and the horrific prolonged sexual assault of a woman who was allegedly held at gunpoint and attacked for more than 15 hours.
Before his arrest in connection with the deadly home invasion, police believe Parisian was living in a tent in Strathcona Park.
Vancouver police said officers were swarmed by a hostile crowd and forced to call for back-up when they executed a search warrant on a tent and towed a trailer at the park as part of their investigation.
Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry said before Parisian’s arrest, Strathcona residents had already endured eight months of crime associated with the encampment, which has seen deaths and brutal attacks on two men.
“The notion that violent predators are seeking refuge in this encampment in a public park … enough is enough,” Fry told Global News.
The housing minister said the province and its partners are on track to decamp Strathcona Park by the end of April.
“It’s sadly predictable so were moving as fast as we can,” Eby said.
“We’re going to do it in a way that the site will not reactivate as an encampment.”
Eby said BC Housing has informed him it is on schedule in terms of finding adequate homes to get everybody inside within 90 days — but noted they will need the Vancouver Park Board to seek any necessary injunctions once those spaces are available.
“We want people to be housed one time, we don’t want people leaving that housing and returning to live outside,” Eby said.
Parisian, who is now in jail with his co-accused awaiting a Feb. 16 court appearance, was previously not shy about reviewing the home he said he accepted while living in Oppenheimer Park.
“I have housing that you guys gave me,” Parisian informed city council.
“I’m thankful for it, but it’s a piece of crap.”